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Navy blue background has diamonds and starbursts. A spotlight icon shines on a circular image of Ciera Thomas. A label read "In the spotlight." Below the label is the text "Ciera Thomas."

by Melissa Marcus

Ciera Thomas is a recent addition to the Center for Health Equity Research (CHER). Her interest in health equity on both global and local scales drove her to seek out her degree at UNC, and it brought her to CHER to gain experience with her work passion.

We chatted with Ciera to learn more about her.

Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you study?

My name is Ciera Thomas. I’m in my first year doing the Masters of Public Health Program, with a global health concentration. I did my undergrad at the University of Georgia with a degree in microbiology.

My interest is in international partnership development, providing locally led and culturally sensitive healthcare access in low and mid GDP countries.

Tell us about your role at CHER.

I just started two weeks ago (in October 2022), so I’m still doing a lot of on-boarding and background reading.

I became interested in CHER because Dr. G (Dr. Gaurav Dave) gave a guest lecture at one of my classes about project GRACE. It got me really interested in the CBPR (Community-Based Participatory Research) model that CHER employs. I talked with him after class, and now I’m the GRA (Graduate Research Assistant) on the Co-LEARN project.

When I’m done with on-boarding, my main role will be in group model building. Essentially, I’ll be facilitating the creation of organizational networks to promote intervention uptake and accessibility.

It’s a collaboration with project GRACE, and we work with clinical, faith-based and community-based organizations in five rural North Carolina counties: Edgecombe, Franklin, Nash, Vance and Warren.

How has working at CHER impacted your time at UNC?

CHER has been a cool way to apply what I’m seeing in my classes. That’s always the most interesting part of research for me. I love actually using concepts from my methods or biostatistics classes, and watching them play out in the way we design studies and the background material I’m reading.

What’s the most important thing for people to understand about what you do?

Well, right now I’m just doing on-boarding. But I’m here to serve as a facilitator and make sure we are integrating our community partners into our academic work in order to ensure the interventions we are designing are contextually appropriate and what the community needs.

What are your plans going forward? How does working at CHER tie into them?

Currently I’m working to finish my MPH.

For post-grad, I’m still deciding if I want to get another doctoral degree or join the workforce. Ultimately I want to work in global health policy development.

CHER does a lot of health equity research which is at the core of my interests. I want to take what I’m doing now and apply it to different cultural contexts.

What might other students want to know about CHER?

One of the most interesting things is that CHER is at the forefront of work and health equity. It makes health equity an essential priority in practice, not just thematically. You can see it in study design and who we choose to include in studies.

The ‘health equity’ part of CHER isn’t just a name–it extends throughout all facets of the organization.

What’s a fun fact about you?

I have family on six out of seven continents, all except Antarctica. (Though one of my family once went to Patagonia, which is in the Arctic Circle…so I guess it counts).